Earlier this month, teachers from across Baltimore City joined AED at our first-ever virtual Arts Integration Conference. Over the course of our week together, we participated in real-time art-making sessions with activities ranging from theatre improv to stop-motion animation, drawing autobiographical comics to beatboxing, and much more! At any given moment, you might have seen teachers improvising dance moves, making flowers from coffee filters, collaboratively brainstorming song lyrics, or making music with tin cans and takeout containers from the recycle bin. These interactive sessions came to life through the work of our talented teaching artists, such as Kevin Hartwell at Baltimore Improv Group, Kevin Sherry (author and illustrator of The Yeti Files book series), New York-based puppeteer Kayla Prestel, local beatbox and vocal percussionist Shodekeh, as well as other experts including current and former BCPS arts teachers.
Our conference curriculum also included an extensive series of asynchronous video courses that made connections between arts disciplines and core subject areas, differentiated for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12th grade bands. Our courses invited teachers to use theater to explore the Earth’s systems; to demonstrate environmental and botanical concepts through dance; to find patterns and numeric repetitions through weaving and textile arts; and to use puppetry to understand the five senses. We also fostered learning around social justice and the arts, safe ways to talk about intersectionality, and transforming classroom access in the arts for students with disabilities. The common thread throughout these courses was the belief that arts integration re-imagines student learning and engagement—and that it gives students the power to be creators in all that they do.
Another central aim of our conference was to support and inspire BCPS teachers. With keynote speeches each day, we saw how the arts can be a force for healing, give young people the agency to express themselves authentically, and use their art to change our world—led by inspiring Baltimore thought leaders Maria Broom, Ronald McFadden, Annalisa Dias, Ernest Shaw, and Destiny Brown. And throughout the conference, we started each day with a centering meditation hosted by Miss tree turtle of the Baltimore Wisdom Project, to help us begin our daily journey with focus, peace, and resilience.
To encourage community among BCPS teachers while supporting artists and cultural organizations, we also curated a selection of digital field trips. From the comfort of our own homes, we visited museums, attended jazz, hip hop, and classical music concerts, watched ballet and Shakespeare, and had a taste of some of the innovative ways artists and organizations are broadening access during this time of COVID.
Despite the limitations of the current climate and without seeing each other in person, we spent a week together in community with our peers in education, learning and supporting each other through creative activities and reflections. We worked with 125 BCPS teachers from 79 schools across Baltimore, who enrolled collectively in 3,460 conference components. While we wait impatiently for the day when we can meet in person again, we’re humbled by the commitment we witnessed from our community of teachers at our inaugural summer arts integration virtual conference. Our hope is that teachers will take our experience together into their virtual classrooms and that students will find new ways to experience the joy of learning through creative expression.